Geek Is The New Chic

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My daughter, Keira, thinks horticulture is cool!

My daughter, Keira, thinks horticulture is cool!

When you see a headline that reads, “Is horticulture a withering field?” it’s hard not to freak out a little bit. And then, when you read the article and the sources are people from our industry, you freak out a little more. Because it’s true.

We might not like to admit it, but horticulture is not “sexy,” as Paul Redman, director of Longwood Gardens, put it in the Philly.com article, published on January 7. The thing is, horticulture is cool — we just have to make it a priority to show young people how cool it is.

That’s why six industry associations are joining forces in a movement to promote U.S. horticulture by endorsing a national study and action plan to amplify the perception and awareness of the profession. Their effort includes an education plan to recommend processes for integrating horticulture into STEM learning initiatives, Next Generation Science Standards and common core education, and venues for educators to access curriculum and training. Learn more about Promoting Horticulture in the United States.

I’m a mom and in my world, STEM education is a hot topic. My social circles are full of people working to empower girls in math and science, encourage kids to develop new solutions at invention camps and promote the idea that “teenage intellectualism” is cool. STEM, if you’re not familiar, stands for science, technology, engineering and math — four areas that are endemic to our industry.

Growing plants, obviously, is science. But as we all know, the science of growing plants goes far beyond the growing process. Let’s be honest, that’s one of the problems we have — we don’t communicate the many scientific facets of horticulture very well. So many people, including students already taking horticulture classes, may look at horticulture and say, “Oh, I don’t want to be a grower,” and rule out a career in our industry right there. But in addition to growing, there is plant breeding (genetics), entomology, weed science, environmental science, biology, sustainable agriculture — the list goes on.

Technology speaks for itself, but someone who is not well-versed in our industry wouldn’t know that it’s one of the most technologically advanced areas of agriculture. Consider all of the advancements we’ve made over the past few decades: high-tech structures, automated irrigation, robotics, computer software and hardware, environmental controls, point-of-sale systems, RFID, QR codes and more. That doesn’t even cover where we’re headed with exciting developments like Google Glass, rooftop structures and warehouse growing.

Then there’s engineering. Bobby Barnitz of Bob’s Market in Mason, W.V. told me his operation relies heavily on his electrical engineer brother who works full time on projects in the greenhouse. Matt Zimmerman at C. Raker & Sons in Litchfield, Mich., is fully invested in engineering custom equipment for the operation. I’m sure there are stories like this at every greenhouse operation. You rely on engineering principles every day in building and maintaining conveyor systems, automation controls and shipping lines.

Math goes into everything you do, from ordering seed and cutting quantities, measuring fertilizers and pesticide tank mixes, determining how your crop mix will be spaced out in the greenhouse, setting prices for plants to make a specific margin and all of your finances and human resources.

Considering all of the STEM principles that go into producing plants, horticulture could be a mecca for aspiring young geeks — a Nerd-vana. Let’s invite kids — and the community — into our businesses so they can experience just how awesome horticulture really is.

Laura Drotleff is editor of Greenhouse Grower.
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